Far more sinister than bubble bubble toil and trouble.
Publisher: Broadway (Random House)
First Published: 2011
Date Reviewed: 2nd July 2013
It’s late 1880s Portland, Maine, and a witchcraft fanatic has murdered a prostitute. No one has any idea why and if it weren’t for Grey and his outlandish plans for fingerprint taking and other evidence collecting, it might have been a lot harder to discover. There appears to be a connection to the Salem witch trials, but also to native Indians and a potential link with a pagan group in the town. It’ll be up to Archie Lean, Grey, Lean’s friend Steig and Steig’s niece Helen, to work out what happened and bring the killer to justice.
The Truth Of All Things is a historical mystery based on fanaticism – a nice town setting with some gruesome murders and a narrative that is both plot and character driven. This mixture can keep you reading even during the slow moments.
Shields has created a good cast of characters. It’s obvious from the text that time is to be spent on them as a group in future – whilst the plot may end sufficiently, the situation of the characters is such that even if it wasn’t now the case that a second book is out, the stage is set for a continuation. This doesn’t mean they are particularly developed however, as the bias is towards the plot.
Of particular note is Helen and Shields’s writing of her. Not only is it good to have a woman included in the investigation, Shields makes her role fairly sized and also includes slight social context. Helen is both a product of her time (she doesn’t speak out when the men worry about how she’ll react to bad news) and someone who is pushing for change in that she wants to play her part. This is improved by her status as a mother, albeit that she is a widow and therefore has no one but her uncle to answer to.
Grey’s part is also worth considering as he is partly native Indian. Although he lives in a time where he has some respect, there are occasions where he is discriminated against and, like the crafty detective he is, he uses this to his advantage, lurking in the shadows so that he and Lean get two perspectives of a scene. Indeed whilst it is slight, Shields book provides a commentary of the society in general. It’s there, but it never takes over the story. But nor is it so minute as to not be noticed.
The history (the 1600s Salem witch trials rather than the 1800s setting of the book) is used to good effect. It is of course important to the story itself, yet Shields never allows it to take over here, bringing in other factors to influence the crimes. When reported, however, there is a lot of detail provided. The issue is that sometimes it could be considered info-dumping. It’s far from a major negative, especially as it’s confined to dialogue, but it is noticeable, namely because it slows the dialogue down to a halt. The 1800s history is all that you’d expect from such a setting, that is to say if you like reading about the period at all, you will like Shields’ Portland.
The dialogue can be grating at times. Shields includes a lot of banter between the characters, and much of this happens during odd moments. It also isn’t very successful as it’s based on the characters’ natures which, given that this is a first book of a series and there is a whole thread dedicated to murders, isn’t something that one can appreciate as the characters are not known yet. There is the sense that the reader ought to know them already.
The book picks up pace around the three-quarters mark, gaining momentum and showing off what Shields can do when not bogged down by detailing. He pulls the wool over your eyes to success. You do need to keep your wits about you as most of the minor cast are referred to at this time, all at once.
The Truth Of All Things isn’t bad. It’s a good début and good enough that you might want to check out the next book. But you won’t be waiting impatiently for it.
I received this book for review from Crown Publishers.
July 4, 2013, 4:53 pm
The historical period of time looks interesting to me since I’ve never read a book about the witches of Salem, and I’m rather interested, but I have other books in my spotlight, and you aren’t totally convinced with this one.
July 4, 2013, 5:20 pm
I have been keen to hear more about this book. I love the idea of the setting and characters. Shame to here you found some issues with the book. But overall I think I might still pick this up if I was really in the mood for a mystery.